Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Dangers of Kumbayahing Our Way Into (Post-Racial) Oblivion

Tiger Woods, everyone's favorite (well, till all those women started comin' out the woodwork) Caublinasian should have been our first warning....

But back in the late 90s, people were too caught up in the hype of Tiger either being our long awaited multiracial Everyman (case in point: "I Am Tiger Woods" commercial) or accusing him of "denying the race" to see that multiraciality (with Tiger as it's shiny new consumer-ready poster child whether he wanted to be or not ) was being used to support an agenda that used "mixed America" to bolster anti-affirmative action debates, to potentially jeopardize the allocation of resources and services to marginalized communities of color and perhaps most dangerously-- to kick start an ideological shift in the U.S. (later cemented by the 2008 election of Barack Obama) that the "mixing" and subsequent "browning of America" actually marked first, a colorblind and now, a post-racial era.

In these new post-racial times,  we're suddenly all "off the hook". We're off the hook because we have the son of a black Kenyan father and a white American mother from Kansas as president. We're off the hook because people of color had their movements and "got their rights". We're off the hook because there are now more mixed race people in the United States than at any other time in our history....

But don't believe the hype...

Are we off the hook with Oscar Grant only the latest in a harrowing history of racialized and gendered police brutality, what about the startling rise of the anti-government and increasingly white supremacist supported Tea Party, --WHAT ABOUT ARIZONA!!!????

The dawn of this so-called "post-racial" era was already imploding seconds after it was declared. We as a country and as a world are not even close to being "post-RACIST" which makes holding hands and singing "We Are the World" (as much as I would love to) damn near impossible in the wake of such stark and continuing realities.

I'm still in the process of learning about all this and I've come across some great articles in David Brunsma's "Mixed Messages" and in Reginald Daniel's "More than Black" as well as several other books on the multiracial movement that discuss just how easily the movement (throughout the late 1980s and 1990s, it focused primarily on getting a multiracial box or option to choose more than one box or identifier on the 2000 U.S. Census) and just the image of "multiraciality" itself was co-opted by a conservative agenda back in the 90s. 
From Multiracial Identity and the U.S. Census
by Tyrone Nagai
"Conservative political leaders such as Newt Gingrich and Ward Connerly supported the shift to multiracial classification, largely because they saw it as contributing to the curtailment of race- based affirmative action programs (Williams, 2006). Republican Congressman Thomas Petri of Wisconsin introduced H.R. 830 in the 104th Congress (June 1996), which tried to force the OMB to add a multiracial category to the 2000 U.S. Census. Petri dubbed this the “Tiger Woods Bill.” Despite numerous efforts, Tiger Woods refused to join or endorse the multiracial cause (Wil- liams, 2005).

Opposition to multiracial identification appeared from the old guard of the civil rights movement, including many Democrats in Congress. They argued that allowing multiple racial identities on government forms would reduce the visibility of racial minorities in statistical data, especially African Americans who are already undercounted by government agencies. The cumulative effect would be a reduction of money and services to minority communities (Williams, 2006). It has also been observed that discussion involving multiracial identification and racial classification is inseparable from administering the modern welfare state, especially with regard to civil rights enforcement and affirmative action programs (Skerry, 2002).

Nothing's really changed, the political right still wants nothing more than to stop being accountable to marginalized communities who's radical freedom and civil rights struggles transformed this nation so many years ago. And what better way to do that than to point to multi people as a sign that "race" and therefore the need to eradicate racial inequality are now obsolete?

What does concern me are the ways in which a possible new wave of the multiracial movement would negotiate civil rights enforcement, social justice and working with (as opposed to against) the needs of other communities of color. Right now, I think pushing for a multi movement 2.o that is not only about identity development but also about coalition building and anti-racist/anti-oppression would be the only way to do that. How? is a whole other question.

It's no mistake that the term "post-racial" itself, began growing from a whisper to the now triumphant self-congratulatory shout, with just the sheer possibility of the first black/multi president-- America's redemption. Yet, our nation's history is predicated on an inheritance of racial inequality and oppression. We can't "post" that away in one single moment or on the back of one black/multiracial president or 6.8 million people checking "more than one box." We need to attack that racial inequality at it's root because EVERYTHING in the U.S. revolves around it, no matter how much we want to close our eyes and click our heels together.

So where do multi people fit in this post-racial oblivion? As usual we find ourselves teetering right on that edge, setting up camp right at that border...

You see, the nagging problem with multi people is that we make really good poster children-- After all, we're naturally photogenic (those hybrid genes, ya know),we're so marketable: we look good on glossy print paper, we come in different shades and hair textures and we're always so eager to promote happiness, love and a futuristic multi-culti paradise with style, of course....(this 1998 Levis ad rests my case [and yes, boo-boo, you can be "mulatto" and "p-r-e-j-u-d-i-c-e."])

All jokes aside, multi people are increasingly seen as the great equalizers and race messiahs. So while the days of "half-breed, oreo, and twinkie" may soon be a thing of the past, "messiahs, superhumans, and race equalizers" are debilitating stereotypes as well.

Multi identity is political--as such it is as prone to manipulation and co-optation as any other marginalized identity in the U.S. But particularly in this post-racial era we have so ignorantly stumbled into, the best advice I can give right now is: please don't drink the Kool-Aid and if we must proceed into the post-racial abyss-- to do so with extreme caution.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival 2010!

The Third Annual Mixed Roots Film & Literary Festival (June 12-13th, 2010) was like every multi kid's dream.

For ONCE in my ENTIRE twenty three years of life I was in a space where a "mixed community" was actually visible; where I was surrounded by fellow curly-headed, ambiguously complected people, families, children, friends and allies-- people who were interested in discussing multi community, history, identity, experiences and even politics-- people who were making films, writing books, recording music, community organizing, fostering entrepreneurship advocating and producing scholarship all in the name of Mixedom. Understandably, I've been geeking out ever since...

It's taken me a few days to fully process just how amazing Mixed Roots really was and the significance of simply having a physical space for multi people to come together. Held in both the  Japanese American National Museum (JANM) and the National Center for the Preservation of Democracy  in Los Angeles, the festival was organized by a team of dedicated and talented people like the festival's coordinator Jennifer Frappier and education outreach coordinator Rayme Cornell as well as co-founders Fanshen Cox and Heidi Durrow (together this dynamic duo make up Mixed Chicks Chat) who's infectious warmth, humility and welcoming spirit I felt as soon as I came in to register and check-in for volunteering.

The JANM featured an exhibit of Kip Fulbeck's latest work "Mixed: Portraits of Multiracial Kids" and the festival was widely attended by mixed families and children. Kim Wayans did a reading of her children's book Amy Hodgepodge which she co-wrote with her husband while Maya Soetoro-Ng (Obama's sister) read from her unpublished illustrated children's book. Maya was honored along with NFL superstar Hines Ward, actress and screenwriter Jenny Lumet and co-founder of Multiracial Americans of Southern California (MASC) Nancy Brown (who I soon found out, is one of the godmothers (aka: OGs) of the multiracial movement of the late 80s and 90s) at the Loving Day Party.

The weekend was full of readings and film screenings (the full schedule of events is available at We'll be here forever if I give you my play by play of the festival. So I'll try my best to give you the Campbell's Condensed version of highlights from two events that still have me thinking.

Panel Exploring the Historical Context for Contemporary Stories of the Mixed Experience

OK, so I'm really big on "knowing your history." I think it may very well be the single most important cornerstone in creating a radical multi movement. So, when I saw that there would be a panel on exploring the historical context of the multi experience, I nearly flipped out and then when I saw that Reginal Daniel PhD would be on the panel-- it was over. I knew that come hell or highwater I would be sitting there, pen and pad in hand waiting expectantly for those esteemed panelist to drop some knowledge.
Which they sorta did...
The panel moderated by Frank Buckley included Kelly Jackson, Larry Aaronson, Farzana Nayani and Reginald Daniel. Larry Aaronson definitely dominated the conversation, which made it difficult to fully hear the thoughts of the rest of the panelists. Yet here were some of the key points I gleaned:

  • Multi history starts with the colonization of the United States and is steeped in the histories of both slavery and Native Americans.
  • Subjectivity and the creation of narratives from and for multi people is essential
  • Multi history is also a history of activism and advocacy of the (relatively) young multiracial movement
  • More work needs to be done on the intersections of socio-economic class and multi identity formation
  • The multiracial movement actually has the potential to be a radical anti-racist, anti-oppressive social justice movement. But that potential needs to be consciously and actively fostered, because it is not part of the "natural" progression of the movement (AMEN!!!!!!!)
Screening of Bi-racial, Not Black....Damnit Part 2!
(you can watch the trailer on the Multifacial:Videos Page)

The controversial 2009 documentary film directed by Carolyn Battle Cochrane explores the complexities of bi-racial (black/non-black) individuals (mostly in the U.S.). I had come across the trailer for the film a few months ago on YouTube. Unfortunately, whoever made the trailer did a terrible job, because instead of feeling inticed, I was left feeling kind of annoyed-- believing that this was yet another film peddling a whiny "mixed-up" "confused" "self-hating" "neo-tragic mulatto" image of biracial individuals.
Despite my initial chagrin, however, I found the film to contain a depth and complexity that I had not expected from the trailer. In addition to one-on-one interviews, Part 2, which was shown at this year's festival, featured clips from a focus group the filmmaker moderated with a group of eight biracial people. It also included interviews and footage of a white mother raising her three bi-racial daughters which provided a different, though at times wholly problematic perspective. While I grapple with my own feelings about biraciality/multiraciality and the construction of blackness, at it's heart the film was advocating for the importance of self-identification. It highlighted some of the real stigmas (yes, they still exist) around interraciality and growing up biracial and provided a range of both complementary and opposing thoughts and opinions. At the end of the day, the film showed that we have quite a bit to talk about and a great deal of work left to do when it comes to understanding multiraciality and race, generally.

One of my biggest issues with the film is actually it's title. Being black and being biracial or multiracial aren't mutually exclusive in the least. It's about self-identification, but it's also about re-imaging this idea of "wholeness." As multi people we're often asked to split ourselves into parts-- becoming perpetual Osiris'-- halves of this, quarters of that. When do we accept the wholeness of our mixedness? It's not like my right arm is just black and my left foot is something else. The word "biracial" itself connotes a fractured, dual self-- which is usually a common feeling-- "walking in both worlds". Yet at the same time we need to demand to exist in spaces on our own terms and make visible all that we are. I think that a great deal of work needs to be done by all of us as a society, but also we as multi people need to empower ourselves to self-identify, know who we are and break out of the tunnel vision that threatens to keep us in our self-made "mixed" box by recognizing how we are connected to other marginalized communities and yes, even the dominant group (power & privilege is a huge part of multiness- and we need to confront that).

I often wonder how relevant these thoughts and dilemmas will be twenty-- even, ten years from now as the number of multi people increases. Everything is so generational and seeing all those multi babies with their families at the Mixed Roots festival, I felt a sense of mingled pride but also something resembling envy that unlike myself, (hopefully) these kids will grow up in a world where they can freely express the fullness and wholeness of who they are and be part of an actual mixed community in addition to all the other communities they may come to call home...

Mixed Roots, I'll be back for an amazing festival next year!

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Naming Ourselves, Naming A Movement

This blog hopes to be a space discuss multiraciality and  to explore the ambiguous, often ambivalent "mixed race movement" in the U.S. What is it? Where is it? Who's in it? What's it doing? This brief article from the Mixed Heritage Center reviews some of the big issues/moments that make up the current "movement".

What I'm really interested in are the ways in which we can think about the role of power and privilege while we engage in a critical, radical and most of all empowering understanding of mixed identities and racial inequality in the U.S.

The experiences and identities of mixed race people in the United States and abroad have often been marginalized if not rendered invisible. While mixed identities have been a part of U.S. history since the nation's birth, this year will mark only the second time in U.S. history that Americans will be able to check more that one racial/ethnic category in the census. From the overwhelming 6.8 million people who checked "more than one box" in the 2000 Census to the election of Obama (a self-proclaimed "mutt)-- "Multi" Americans are gaining unprecedented visibility in the 21st century.

But with this visibility comes inevitable scrutiny and ambivalence about mixed people. With a nation so predicated on a history or racial inequality and yet as intent on hastening a post-racial era on the backs of people of color, re-imagining race and mixed identities has never been more important.

I'm ready to take on a Multi Movement (or even movements?) that is conscious of it's history, convicted in it's mission, and serious about tearing down the static notions of identity that keep not only multi people down, but all of us no matter how we identify. Is it possible for us to imagine, to hope for a multiracial movement that is at it's core a radical social justice/ anti-racist/anti-oppression movement?

That's a pretty tall order. We'll just have to wait and see.